Inaccessibility of Digital Assets

Digital estate planning is becoming an increasingly common practice.  However, security measures of internet and technology corporations have the potential to disrupt the implementation of a testator’s plans.

recent news article tells the story of a woman named Anthea Grant, who purchased an iPad for use during two years of cancer treatment.

The device was used primarily for entertainment during chemotherapy sessions and for video communication with Anthea’s sons, Josh and Patrick.

After Anthea’s death, her sons realized that they did not know their mother’s Apple account password.  Anthea’s sons are the sole beneficiaries of her Estate.  There is no controversy with respect to the sons’ right to possess the device.  However, Josh and Patrick have been unable to obtain access to the tablet to see if it contains any relevant information.

After providing their mother’s death certificate, a copy of her Last Will and Testament, and a letter from their solicitor, as had earlier been requested, Apple is now asking for Anthea’s written  instructions that Josh and Patrick are authorized to access her account.  As this is no longer an option, Apple recommends that the brothers obtain a court order to prove that Anthea was the owner of the iPad and Apple account, citing the American Electronic Communications Privacy Act as its rationale in denying access.

While Anthea’s sons do not wish to incur the legal fees necessary to obtain a court order for the release of the Apple account information, they wonder if the iPad contains any digital assets of any financial or sentimental value.

A digital estate plan frequently facilitates access to computer accounts, with a list of all accounts and login information.  Had Anthea created a digital estate plan, including such information, this issue would not likely have emerged.  Nevertheless, legislation in Canada and elsewhere remains an outdated barrier that should be amended to address the prevalence of digital assets in estate planning and administration.

Thank you for reading.

Creating Your Digital Legacy For Future Generations

Creating Your Digital Legacy For Future Generations

Grandpa “Les” Schindler on the farm around 1938-39

My grandfather (Leslie “Les” J. Schindler) was born January 1, 1918 and passed while I was in grad school – Nov 16, 1998.

He was a farmer and mechanic. On the farm, we had a dairy cow, about 40 head of cattle and we planted corn and soy beans.

Growing up I spent a lot of time on back fender of his tractor until I was old enough to drive one (I think around 6 or 7).

Then we would spend the days following each other around the fields. He would be cutting hay. I would be conditioning. He would be baling. I would be stacking.  He would be picking. I would be unloading the corn.

I learned a ton from him – about hard work, perseverance, and a few mechanical skills. I miss him a lot. Especially now that I have a family of my own. It would be great to understand what he thought about his situation and how he dealt with life’s ups and downs.

But he didn’t leave a lot of things behind. Great memories for sure, but nothing really written down.

If he had I would go back to those writings quite a bit.

I would look to what he said and how he said it. I have just a few of those grandpa quotes I remember – one of my favorites that he would say to grandma at the end of night when company had overstayed their welcome.

“Come on, Mother. Let’s go to bed so these people can go home.”

He had a twisted sense of humor.

I wonder if he had the ability to write down his everyday thoughts, would he?

Would he have been a blogger? 
Would he had tweeted about the farm? 
Would he had shared about the house and barns he built by hand?
Or the animals he cared for?

Probably not. But if he would have created the text, the pictures, the video, the vines, whatever it was – I would read it all, over and over. I respected the man quite a bit but I don’t remember much about what he thought. I just have a few pictures and a bunch of hazy memories of my childhood.

When I think of the opportunity that social media has given me, it kinda blows my mind. You have any opportunity to share with generations that only a handful of people have done in the past.

You can give you minute-by-minute updates of your life in real time. You can follow and learn as much as you want from others.  It’s amazing how connected and documented we are now. We all have audiences – and these audiences actually care about what we are writing.

Facebook as Digital Diary

Facebook as Digital Diary

What do you think about these digital tools documenting your life?

But it’s more than that.

We are essentially writing the books of our lives with ongoing commentary of friends and family and, maybe some detractors as well. That’s a lot different than a normal diary.

Yes, I keep in mind very well the people that are in my social networks when I’m sharing information. I want them to respond to me and I want to be a value add to their days. But I also need to keep in mind my future generations. The sons of my son, the daughters of my daughter’s daughter.

They will be influenced by what I say here because this will be my only voice after I’m gone.

I say all of this not because I want to scare you into deleting your Facebook account. We have all probably vented a few times too many, gone off on a rant or posted photos that could be taken out of context.

No, I say this, because I want you to keep sharing. I want you to pass along your wisdom to future generations and share with them what it was like to live at this day and age.

The stuff you do daily is actually very important.  If you are farming and sharing that information, there’s a good chance that the people who stumble across your blog or Facebook page or twitter profile aren’t connected to that lifestyle.  The daily stuff is new to them and very interesting. It’s not something they experience everyday.

And when generations look back like we do at the 1800′s when people were documenting their lives to share with others via mail but our future will definitely want to look into the past for insights. The sunrises you saw, the work you were passion about, the people you spent time with, the adventures you have are all part of this crazy social media world and it will be available forever to them.

So maybe this post is a little too sentimental. And maybe it’s not “real” enough because I edit out of social media some things that might be a bit too controversial for my future generations and my audience. That’s ok – I’m not and you aren’t – being graded on this.  You can share the controversial – sometimes that makes for lots of discussion – but just remember to be civil and kind.  It’s ok to disagree. It’s not ok to be a jerk.

I just want the future gens to trust me (even if all they know about me is what they have seen when I’m an old man who couldn’t have possibly been young at one time) and know that I thought about them when I was creating. I shared because I cared about them.

So I’m hoping that grandpa would have blogged had he been given the chance.  This way I could go back and visit with him even after he’s gone.

What do you think about future generation viewing our digital profiles? Any issues with it? Does it change how you think about social media?

Academic Articles and Papers

Academic Articles and Papers

  • In 2013, an article titled: “Facebook after death: an evolving policy in a social network” by Damien McCallig was published.
  • In 2013, an article titled: “Coping Online with Loss: Implications for Offline Clinical Contexts” by Joanna Pawelczyk was published. Thank you Dr. Carmel Vaisman for sending me the link.
  • In May 2013, Maria Perrone’s article: “What Happens When we Die: Estate Planning of Digital Assets” was published.
  • In May 2013 an article by Jed R. Brubaker, Gillian R. Hayes, and Paul Dourish was published, titled: “Beyond the Grave: Facebook as a Site for the Expansion of Death and Mourning“.
  • paper titled “Digital Afterlife: What Happens to Your Data When You Die?” was published in May 2013, by Stephen S. Wu.
  • In May 2013 a paper titled “Digital Estate Planning: Is Google Your Next Estate Planner?” was published, by Jamie Patrick Hopkins.
  • In April 2013, the paper “Afterlife in the Cloud: Managing a Digital Estate“, also by Jamie Patrick Hopkins, was published.
  • In February 2013 a paper titled “What happens to my Facebook profile when I die?” : Legal Issues Around Transmission of Digital Assets on Death” was published by Lilian Edwards and Edina Harbinja. Thank you Paul Golding for sending me the link.
  • Since September 2012, the article “There Isn’t Wifi in Heaven!” – Negotiating Visibility on Facebook Memorial Pages by Alice Marwick and Nicole B. Ellison is available online for free download. Thank you Dr. Carmel Vaisman for sending me this link.
  • In 2012, an article titled “Grief-Stricken in a Crowd: The Language of Bereavement and Distress in Social Media” was published, by Jed R. Brubaker, Funda Kivran-Swaine, Lee Taber and Gillian R. Hayes.
  • In 2011, the article “”We will never forget you [online]”: An Empirical Investigation of Post-mortem MySpace Comments” was published, by Jed R. Brubaker and Gillian R. Hayes.
  • In 2011, the article “Security and privacy considerations in digital death” was published by Michael E. Locasto, Michael Massimi and Peter J. DePasquale.
  • In 2010, Jed R. Brubaker and Janet Vertesi’s paper “Death and the Social Network “was published .
  • In 2008, the current term “Digital Legacy” was then referred to as “Digital Heirlooms” and an article titled: “On the Design of Technology Heirlooms” was published by David Kirk and Richard Banks.
If you come across any other papers or articles, please be so kind as to send me the link, so I could add them to the list (with credit to you, of course). Email: death.in.digital.era@gmail.com, Facebook page: Digital Dust.